Yesterday, my patient Jill was distressed because her son had not been invited to a party his friends had attended. He heard about it the afternoon of and called her several times to ask if she had received an email from the organizing mother. He was obviously anxious and hurt. She had not received any communication. Jill was disconcerted because the mom in question had attended gatherings at her home on several occasions.
- Was it an oversight?
- An impromptu gathering?
- A limited number permitted to a costly event?
- Was it really everyone, as her son said, or just a few?
- Did the mom have the correct e-mail?
- Was this an established group her son should not expect to be part of?
- Had her son been provoking exclusion in a subtle or overt way?
General concerns: How does one protect their child socially? Should one strategize socially just to make sure they are included? Is it even possible to make sure? Does inclusion in a particular group really matter?
How to deal with exclusion:
- Read the child and make sure you are not imposing your own social anxiety onto them. If you had a history of feeling/being left out, such slights may throw you; so best to deal with your inner matters. Consider whether this group is a good choice for him or her as peers have profound influence. Maybe he or she does not fit for an excellent or healthy reason.
- See how bothered your child is and try to understand the particulars: which kids, what event, why they think it occurred. Let them express how they feel about it while you remain even-keeled. The best kind of empathy involves a distance. If you completely inhabit their inner experience, it is hard to say helpful things. Contain your own anger, hurt, anxiety or hysteria.
- Try to ascertain if your child is doing things that might put off peers. Sometimes counseling for social issues can help. Children may not be aware of how their behaviors are received and awareness is a form of empowerment. On the other hand, some kids are quirky, creative, not in the same mind frame as the group and this may be something to embrace. Engage in activities with like minded others outside—film clubs, theatre groups, biking clubs—or even find a different school.
- Is your child more of a one-best-friend person? Some kids/people experience anxiety in groups and even if they clamor to be included, they may actually feel happier having a more intimate experience with one or two people. Maybe they even like being home with you and passing time doing projects. That’s okay. My friend’s daughter made everything from duck to brioche on weekends. However, if there is an underlying social anxiety, it is good to find out. A mental health professional can help with ways to adjust, adapt, maintain difference and feel better.
- Even if your child feels injured, it is best to teach him or her to manage the matter in private. As primitive as it sounds, there are plenty of people who freely add insult to injury or torment a vulnerable person. Sadistic traits are not unusual and often not conscious. Bottom line: encourage him or her to brush it off at least behavior-wise, in public. Eventually with the proper interventions, he or she will be able to brush it off within. In a few circumstances, with good support, someone can come out and publicize the story for healing purposes.
Both parents and children can feel undone by exclusions. Take a breath and grab some distance. Make it less important. After you have explored, understood and done what you can about the matter, let it go. Realize that both you and yours have other things to do and think about.
If you emphasize it too much, people who are not that relevant take up prominent positions in your psyche where they do not belong.